A little over ten years ago now, the Cleveland Indians had one of the more unusual starts to a home slate of games in the history of baseball.
The date was Friday, April 6, 2007, and the Indians were set to open Jacobs Field for play for the first time that season with a 4:05 PM start against the Seattle Mariners. Hopes were high in Cleveland that the Tribe would rebound from a disappointing 78-84 record in 2006, just one season after going 93-69 and falling games short of the playoffs courtesy of a late September collapse.
The Tribe had already opened the season strong, taking two of three from the White Sox in Chicago. The team’s loss in the series finale occurred in most bizarre of fashion, as Roberto Hernandez (not the Fausto Carmona one…) entered the game in the ninth inning with the score knotted at three against his former White Sox team. After a pair of singles to lead off the inning, Hernandez committed an error on a pickoff attempt, allowing both runners to move up 90 feet. The Indians dugout called for the free pass, which loaded the bases with nobody out for catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Hernandez proceeded to hit him with a pitch, forcing home the winning run.
Likely eager to get that bitter taste out of their mouths, the Indians were playing host to the 2-1 Mariners and would send Paul Byrd to the mound for the Friday afternoon start, one already pushed back an hour in observance of Good Friday.
As those living on the Cleveland lakefront already know, when snow squalls hit, they can be persistent and can leave behind plenty of evidence of their time in town. Such was the case on this day, as the grounds crew had to clear an inch and a half of snow from the field with plows four hours before game time while other crews worked to clear the seating area.
Two hours later, they had to repeat the process, this time with leaf blowers as “Winter Wonderland” played over the loudspeakers in the park. Having a sense of humor in downtrodden times is a healthy coping skill.
The start of the day’s festivities were delayed 57 minutes as the same grounds crew had to again clear the field. Two more delays would hit before the second inning. First pitch temperatures were 31 degrees and a 14 MPH wind provided a 20-degree wind chill.
The Indians struck first through the flurries in the first. With Jason Michaels in scoring position and Travis Hafner at first, Victor Martinez grounded to third baseman Adrian Beltre. An errant throw allowed Michaels to score and the Indians were on top.
Errors were again a factor in the third inning when the Indians extended their lead to four runs. With the bases loaded, Ryan Garko reached on error, scoring Michaels from third. With the bags still loaded, Jhonny Peralta swept a double to deep center, knocking in Kelly Shoppach and Casey Blake and moving Garko to third.
Martinez left after the third inning and missed six games over the next 12 days after straining his left quadriceps muscle running out a grounder to third that Beltre juggled for one of his three errors on the game.
Byrd, meanwhile, was untouched on the mound heading into the fifth inning as the flakes continued to loft down from the skies. He walked leadoff man Raul Ibanez, but induced a fly out from former friend of the feather Richie Sexson. Back-to-back walks to Jose Guillen and Kenji Johjima loaded the bases for Yuniesky Betancourt. The Mariners shortstop lined out to his counterpart Peralta, whose flip to Josh Barfield at second base almost caught Guillen heading back to the bag.
Number nine hitter Jose Lopez came to the plate and quickly fell behind Byrd, who was a strike away from ending the inning and making the contest an official league game. Instead, former Tribe skipper Mike Hargrove emerged from his Mariners dugout and protested to home plate umpire Alfonzo Marquez and crew chief Rick Reed that Lopez could not see the pitches because of the snow falling and was in danger at the plate.
“The Human Rain Delay” had evolved into “The Human Snow Delay”.
Indians manager Eric Wedge joined in on the discussion, one that became far more heated than the winter chill in the air. Several minutes passed as the snow began to thicken and Jacobs Field looked more a snow globe than a baseball diamond.
At 7:24 PM, the third “snow delay” began with Byrd just one out – just one strike – away from giving the Indians a win while earning a unique no-hitter, even if it wouldn’t have counted among official records.
“Hargrove’s argument was that his hitter could not see and complained to him,” said the crew chief Reed following the snow-shortened contest. “He went to home plate to give us his viewpoint, and Eric came out to support his team.
“Both had legitimate gripes. Was the snow heavier at that point than at any other in the game? It was close.”
Fans passed the time during the third delay by doing whatever they could to stay warm and some even enjoyed a prequel to “Snow Days” at the park by building snowmen. One savvy fan was spotted in the crowd with a sign that read, “Get Used to the Weather, It’s Cold In October”, a bit of clairvoyance on an otherwise frigid eve.
One hour and 17 minutes into the third delay, the game was called.
“We ended up on the south side of things. Everyone was fighting for what they wanted,” shared Wedge. “I was fighting for the chance to keep it going. I understand when a player says he can’t see. The manager is going to stick up for him, and the umpires have to listen to him.”
“It’s tough to [call it] in the middle of the at-bat,” Garko said after the game. “They started the at-bat in that kind of snow.”
“The playing field was getting unplayable,” said the crew chief Reed. “I was concerned about the players’ welfare. We lost one player, Cleveland’s catcher. There are only so many times you can run people out there.
“We started the game an hour later in order to give the snow showers a chance to get through the area and let the grounds crew do their job. They were magnificent, and that’s why I feel bad because of all the hard work they did in preparation for this.”
Byrd did not take kindly to the decision and the team had a meeting after the game.
“When they finally called the game, they were laughing and high-fiving each other in the dugout like they’d gotten away with something,” he said of the Mariners. “And they did.
“I hope it puts a chip on our shoulder.”
And it did.
The game was rescheduled for a doubleheader the next day, as it was the lone scheduled trip to Cleveland for the Mariners in 2007, but the whole series would instead be snowed out and the Indians would move their homestand to Milwaukee, playing their official “home” opener in Miller Park against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Tuesday, April 10th. When the Indians finally returned home to Jacobs Field for a Friday the 13th series to conclude their “homestand”, they dropped a 6-4 final to the White Sox.
For Byrd and his teammates who were successful and productive through half a game, the stats and the near-win did not count. Thankfully, the Indians would win the American League Central handily by eight games and that lost game, one strike and one out away from being a real game, would not come back to haunt them.
Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
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Having moved to SE Wisconsin late in 1994, and thereby missing all the good times in the mid-90’s, I enjoyed watching 2 of those 3 games from 4 rows behind home plate. Tix were $10, free parking. Hoping for more early April snowstorms in Cleveland!